By Lexi Wright and Gabrielle Poli
As students in COA’s Fish, Fish, Fish class, we were given the opportunity to interview various members of fishing communities. If asked about who makes up fishing communities before taking the class, our list likely answer would have consisted solely of fishermen. Through our interviews we were exposed to many other actors as well, such as processors, aquaculturists, and the focus of this blog— wardens and marine patrol.
When thinking about fisheries and the relationship that they have with law enforcement, it is easy to assume that there would be tension and pushback- Lobstermen for example, are known to enjoy freedom and do whatever is necessary to protect their territory, such as cut traps that are placed too close to theirs, which makes it hard to visualize where the officers of the sea fit in to the mix. By interviewing two law enforcement officers in the Downeast region, one with marine patrol and the other a town shellfish warden, as well as spending a weekend interacting with fishermen and wardens in the area, it became clear that marine law enforcement personnel are extremely integral members of the fishing community of their jurisdiction and have a lot of stories to tell about their relationship with marine resources and the community members that harvest them. In our blog, we will be highlighting parts of our interviews in which a strong sense of community seemed to have inspired productive interactions between law enforcement and fishermen.
In one of our interviews, we asked a shellfish warden and former marine patrol officer some of the most common violations that he ran into, he made a point to say that even though his job was to enforce marine laws and that sometimes it would create a rift between himself and the fishermen, that his role as an active community member is what could bridge the gap. Because he had grown up in the area his whole life and had been involved in his community both as a fisherman and a regulator, a fisherman that he may have given a ticket to for illegally digging or whatever it may be was very unlikely to hold a grudge. He said that he’d see people he had given a ticket to while walking through the gas station and be able to still have a normal conversation because they’ve grown up together or he knows their parents which establishes a connection on a more personal level. The small town dynamic of many towns in Maine seems to have played a positive role in the relationships that law enforcement have with fishermen. Because marine patrol officers or wardens are more often than not very involved in the communities that they look after, it seems that each side of the spectrum is more respectful to and receptive of what the other is trying to accomplish.
Another marine patrol officer we interviewed also emphasized the importance of being involved in the community, and that an integral part of fisheries management is working with local people, building trust, and fostering communication between fisherman and officers. He told us how the basis of marine patrol lies in getting to know individuals on a personal level before dealing with business-related issues. How does a marine patrol officer go about forming these connections with the community? For this officer, it involves asking how their days are going, how their family is doing, and getting to know them on a human level. He described this to be the best part of his job. It both enhances his day and makes his work easier. He knows the fishermen’s families, their stories, and what matters to them. With this relationship as a foundation, he can better manage any potential issues that arise.
Another aspect of being a marine patrol officer is to respond when an animal is in need of rescuing, especially when there are cases of marine animal entanglement. For example, he recently worked to release an Atlantic white-sided dolphin back into the water after she was stranded on the shore. He recalled the famous whale, Spinnaker, and how he helped to set her free when she got entangled, multiple times, around Mount Desert Island. He conveyed this experience to be challenging, powerful, and breathtaking all at once. He told us that after they worked to untangle this whale, she raised a pectoral fin as if to wave goodbye, in gratitude of being released. He witnessed this particular whale for years, which he remembers as a wonderful experience, to be observing and monitoring such a special animal for such a long time. Spinnaker was eventually found washed ashore in Acadia National Park in 2015, after having been entangled a total of four times throughout her life. Spinnaker’s skeleton was articulated by Dan DenDanto of Whales and Nails for an exhibited at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
This marine patrol officer’s work isn’t limited to marine mammal response, he also has had experience with sea turtle rescue. Once he responded to a leatherback sea turtle, which was found entangled in buoy lines, caught in the middle of all this rope and colorful floating buoys. Because the turtle’s flippers were entangled by these lines, the officers decided to “give him a little rapper name, because the buoys were floating off around his neck and his flippers, he looked like a young rapper if you will.” They were eventually able to disentangle and release this turtle, so he was able to escape and swim off into the ocean.
Through their stories of violations, marine mammal rescues, and connections to local people, we learned how multifaceted the work of fisheries regulation can be. While the two interviewees were coming from different professions: one a shellfish warden and the other a marine patrol officer, they both shared insights into how a resource is managed through interpersonal relationships and a shared sense of community.